What Happened to the Canadian Video Game Awards?

The sixth annual Canadian Video Game Awards (CVAs) went down at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto on Sunday, and while the evening certainly had its share of winners, the reception itself was not among them. The lightly attended ceremony offered a lot of visual glitz without offering much in the way of substance, and the awards will have to rebuild its relationship with developers and fans following a disappointing 2015 endeavor.

And no, I don’t take any pleasure in writing that. I simply feel like I have to after listening to the responses of various participants and attendees throughout the weekend. During the show, I was left with the impression that there were two distinct and separate CVA productions and I don’t know which one had priority. One was the celebration at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, where developers availed themselves of the bar and rightfully toasted their success. The other was a heavily produced CVA broadcast that was designed exclusively for a Twtich audience watching at home.

That’s not necessarily a problem. I’m not one to criticize anyone for coming up with a reason to throw a party, and there’s a lot to celebrate in the world of Canadian game development. Though Assassin’s Creed Syndicate took home the top prize, it faced stiff competition from games like Invisible, Inc. and Dragon Age: Inquisition, which beat Syndicate in a head-to-head battle for Best Console Game, yet was strangely not nominated for Game of the Year.

But the show was not a cheap production, which becomes more difficult to justify if the execution is handled poorly. I watched the CVAs while sitting on the show floor with a group of developers, and after a two and a half hour ceremony, I’m still not entirely sure who the Canadian Video Game Awards are supposed to serve. The live show didn’t seem to have much to do with the Twitch broadcast, to the point that many people present tuned out the ceremony because the acoustics of the converted hockey rink made it difficult to hear anything from the stage.

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It didn’t help that most of what we did hear was either unfunny or puzzling. The bizarre attempt to turn #MOBAMakeMeHorny into a trending hashtag felt like a painfully cringe-worthy inside joke that no one was in on (putting it on t-shirts just made me feel bad for the hosts from EP Daily), while the script generally came across like a dad’s attempt to convince his teenage kids that he’s still ‘with it.’ The jokes tried to mimic the 140-character jargon that the kids are using on Twitter, but did so primarily with dated references to pop culture relics from the 1980s. The CVAs had solid technical production, but if you’re going to spend a lot of money designing a ceremony for an online audience, then you need to make damn sure that the broadcast is entertaining.

That’s the crux of the issue. Several different groups invested heavily in the CVAs, and afterwards it was clear that many were understandably upset with the result. They expected better reach and exposure following such a significant expenditure of time and resources, and while I think every one involved made a good faith effort, there’s no getting around the fact that the CVAs didn’t make as big a splash as those involved were expecting.

I haven’t watched the Twitch broadcast, so it’s possible that it played better online than it did live in the venue. But it sure seemed like a lot of the material fell on indifferent ears, and the few bits that did work – like a character battle between voice actors David Hayter (Solid Snake) and Elias Toufexis (Adam Jensen) – probably would have benefited from a more responsive in-house audience. Despite the fact that tickets were available to the public, nearly everyone in the building was either a nominee or a guest, while the weekend-long Fan Fest was similarly short on fans.

It’s enough to make you wonder. If no one shows up to the event, then what’s the point of all the pageantry? Are the CVAs an excuse to throw a party for a bunch of developers (in which case, hey, go right ahead, but maybe book a smaller venue)? Or are they supposed to promote the works of Canadian game developers in Canada and elsewhere?

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Awards shows like the Golden Globes demonstrate that it’s possible for those two agendas to co-exist as long as the audiences and the nominees invest them with enough meaning. That potential seems to exist for the CVAs, where people are proud to be Canadian developers. The representatives from Square Enix Montreal cheered loudly and enthusiastically for Lara Croft GO and Hitman: Sniper every time they were nominated and it was amazing to see the developers in attendance so excited about the games they create.

But that sentiment was hardly universal, at least in the sense that attendance was sporadic. Invisible, Inc. and Don’t Starve developer Klei Entertainment was notably absent, which says far more about the relative status of the CVAs than it does about studios that are obviously proud of their accomplishments. Developers and fans need to believe that the CVAs are relevant if they’re going to continue to support them, and that trust felt like it was damaged over the weekend.

Again, I don’t take any pleasure in writing that because I genuinely want the CVAs to succeed, but that’s also why I feel the need to write something when things don’t go well. A lot of great games are made in Canada. Their developers deserve to have a reason to throw an awesome party, and I hope the mistakes of 2015 lead to a more sustainable Canadian Video Game Awards moving forward.

 



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